He whispered, he noted, he declared, he suggested, he promised and so on and on and on.
And it just seems so wrong.
What it is . . .
there's this unfortunate tendency of novice writers to pluck creative dialog tags, apparently at random, from a list they have in the back of their three-ring binder from sixth grade.
This leads the friendly folks who put together writing books to grow thin and haggard and tear their hair out and make a rule
which probably relieves their minds considerably,
but it's, like, y'know, more of a guideline.
Pretty obviously, the first thing we ask ourselves when we come up with a nifty saidism is whether this word
-- and all the information packed into this word --
has been put into a dialog tag because we need that information.
Are we writing he complained because the complaining is important
or have we just decided to tag dialog in a novel way because we're sick of using 'said' and Mrs. Grundy told us in sixth grade not to repeat words?
-- does not need to be conveyed,
-- or can be revealed another, better, way,
-- or is exaggerated or inappropriate.
When you use a saidism, what you get, a lot of times, is:
"I'll tell them to leave the mayo off your sandwich," Maurice stated . . . (or declared, cajoled, promised, expostulated, argued, complained, opined, or maintained.)
Don't use that saidism. Use 'he said.'
Maurice didn't promise or declare.
He just said it, for Pete's sake.
Before we use a saidism, we assure ourselves the saidism is logical and necessary and not exaggerated and we're dealing with information the reader must be told.
Even if this is necessary information -- is a dialog tag is the best way to get it across to the reader??
The brute force way to determine this is to try out a couple different techniques that convey this necessary and exciting information.
One way to convince ourselves we don't really need to tell the reader that Maurice is asserting and maintaining and cajoling about mayonnaise is to drag those saidisms out of the dialog tag and put them into action or internals. That's when we suddenly realize that Maurice ain't doing any such thing as cajoling, nohow.
First we satisfied ourselves that the character is really whispering
and not just 'saying'.
We also decided we need to tell the reader the character is whispering
and we have decided that the nature of the dialog itself and the surrounding action does not at this time make it clear this is all in whispers.
Ok. So, having got those questions out of the way, we look at our saidism as a dialog tag --
She whispered, with a child’s simplicity, “I do not need to see your face, Citoyenne Finch.”
We change it around a bit. Take it out of the dialog tag and put it into action or description or internals.
They could only speak in whispers. She said, with a child’s simplicity, “I do not need to see your face, Citoyenne Finch.”
We convey it in Internal Monolog.
I must not be overheard. She said, with a child’s simplicity, “I do not need to see your face, Citoyenne Finch.”
We drop the information into description.
“I do not need to see your face, Citoyenne Finch.” The words snaked out from under the rain; words made of cool wavery sounds.
When we look at these couple alternatives, the simplicity of simply laying out the whisper as a dialog tag is obvious.
We place the saidism in this sentence and we know it's right.
We can break that 'no saidisms rule' and still sleep easily at night which is nice.
like whispered, murmured, muttered, yelled, spat out, grated under his breath, and so on
are the most apt to become elegant and thrifty dialog tags.
They are simple, straightforward actions that lend themselves to expression as simple action verbs.
Having determined that we should tell the reader about the mouth movements, we may often do this with a saidism.
Moving along -- there is a much larger class of saidisms that show intent and emotion. Avowed, complained, averred, promised, guessed, questioned, concluded, wished, harassed, rejoiced, mourned, remembered, and so on.
These are the saidisms that end up getting latched onto sentences that do not deserve them.
What we tend to forget is that these are powerful words. You can't just drop them down anywhere.
This is where we get the infamous:
"I'll tell them to leave the mayo off your sandwich," he promised. Or avowed, stated, maintained, declared, cajoled, expostulated or stone-walled.
All those words are too important and exciting to get attached to a sentence about mayo. They are BIG. In this case, he didn't promise or declare.
He just said it, for Pete's sake.
Speaking very generally again,
these saidisms that carry intent and emotion are full of complex information and abstract concepts.
The concepts are so big and floppy they want to spread out comfortably in Internal Monolog, in other internals, or in the dialog itself, or in really sneaky and significant accompanying action.
The information -- and we are assuming it is vitally necessary information and relevant and all that -- doesn't like to be crammed into a dialog tag.
Let's say we have something to say about Hawker's state of mind.
“You don’t eat your own donkey. And you don’t use your own woman as bait,” Hawker complained. "That’s one of those delicate distinctions gentlemen make.”
“You don’t eat your own donkey. And you don’t use your own woman as bait,” Hawker said sarcastically. "That’s one of those delicate distinctions gentlemen make.”
But let's put it into action instead.
“You don’t eat your own donkey. And you don’t use your own woman as . . .” Hawker kicked a loose chunk of cobble in the gutter. It rolled end-over-end and rapped up against a wall. “bait. That’s one of those delicate distinctions gentlemen make.”
The action carries the big, complex emotion in a way the dialog tag can't.
If we have an emotion to convey, we take it out of the dialog tag where it is all cramped up and simplified. We stop trying to compress big important emotion into the tone of a voice. In IM, in action, in description, we can use more words, basically.
And it lets us pull in some images we got lying around in our brains doing nothing in particular.
replied, answered, repeated, interrupted, cut off, and so on.
The whole -- 'when do we use saidisms' question -- is like talking about anything else in writing. You read the advice in the writing books. Take some. Leave some. Some gets rained out.